INTERVIEWED BY Michaela Stehr IMAGES via emilieregnier.com
Haitian-Canadian photographer Émilie Régnier, whose work we spotted at this year’s Investec Cape Town Art Fair, creates work that highlights multiple backgrounds and experiences, echoing the story of her own nomadic life.
Born in Montreal, and currently living in Senegal, Émilie chats with VISI about how she got into photography and whom she considers her biggest inspiration.
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I had the most beautiful analog Pentax. I bought it in Abidjan in 2014 and lost it in Morroco in 2018. Got my last roll from the lab today. Loosing a camera you love is probably among the worst things that can happen to a photographer, this camera and I have been through a lot together. #pentax
How did you begin taking photographs?
I came to photography at a very young age. My grandfather bought me my first Polaroid camera when I was about six-years-old. I was living in Gabon, and I remember shooting whatever I could: my friends, landscapes, etc. They were terrible images, but I was already fascinated with the magic of photography. When I was 16, I started working and I used my first paycheck ever to buy myself a semi-professional Pentax camera.
I took photos of my friends and parties until graduation and I would paste them on the wall of my room. From there, I tried hard not to embrace photography as a professional career, but at 20, after dropping out of college on a winter’s day because they were no more parking spots available… I decided that maybe it was time to stop running away from what I really wanted. I decided to study photography at Collège Marsan in Montreal.
What feelings or message are you trying to convey through your work?
The goal I am pursuing with my work is to build bridges; to create other narratives and other ways of looking at people. Our brains are lazy and Western ideas of success, beauty and wealth are widely spread through western media, often held by the elite around the world. This has created conditioning on how we see ourselves and how we see others. I want to challenge those ideas. Having been exposed to them growing up, I work hard every day to rewire my brain and to believe other truths. I want my work to make others question their absolute beliefs. I don’t have answers, but I am continually seeking new questions. I believe fashion and art are powerful tools that can lead to new ways of thinking and expanding our consciousness.
Do you just shoot or do you plan your compositions prior to shooting?
I work very instinctively – it will depend on the project or the circumstances. I have a tendency to embrace imperfections.
Do you have any photographers who inspire you?
My queen is Diane Arbus. I have been in love with her and her work since photography school. I believe her writing about photography and life was so on point. This is one of my favourite quotes: “Most people go through life dreading they’ll have a traumatic experience. Freaks were born with their trauma. They’ve already passed their test in life. They’re aristocrats.”
What are your plans for the rest of 2019?
To make people love one another by recording and mixing their hearts in various places in the world, highlighting locations that have a history of racial, ethnic, economic or religious segregation. I hope I will be back in South Africa for this project, as well as in Rwanda.